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Outlander: David Berry talks John Grey, and his feelings for Jamie

‘Lord John is dealing with an an internal conflict of character,’ the actor says

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It seems Frank Randall isn’t the only one suffering from the effects of unrequited love. Before we go on, a SPOILER ALERT! Do not read on until you’ve watched Sunday’s episode of Outlander.

In the latest episode of the Starz drama, fans were given a full introduction to Major John William Grey (David Berry), the governor of Ardsmuir Prison who was first introduced as a teenager in season 2. Grey’s feelings about Jamie (Sam Heughan) become clear rather quickly during one heartbreaking exchange in his prison quarters.

“I lost a particular friend at Culloden,” he says to Jamie, mournfully. “He was the reason I joined the army. He inspired me.”

Glassy-eyed, Grey goes on to explain how his brother dragged him away from the corpse of his friend. “He was embarrassed you see, said I would overcome it.”

And that’s when he touches Jamie.

Aimee Spinks/Starz

Speaking to EW in Los Angeles recently, Heughan discussed his character’s reaction to his British captor.

“There’s a period where they learn to gain each other’s trust and they become companions in this place that is very barren. There’s nothing else really to do there,” Heughan said. “They find there’s an intellectual appreciation of each other’s company, and they form this friendship. But then Grey makes his emotions or his intentions known. Jamie feels that not only is it dangerous for him, but sad. He feels just so many different things for John Grey in that moment.”

And how does Grey feel in return? We asked Berry about his character’s first impressions of Jamie, and what to expect of their relationship in the coming episodes.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: In your opinion, what is Lord Grey’s first opinion on Jamie?
DAVID BERRY: “We first see Lord Grey as he is introduced to Jamie/McDugh in the prison grounds. Lord Grey is immediately reminded of the encounter he had with him as a boy many years before. He is both fascinated by and fearful of Jamie. Lord Grey sees Jamie as a fearsome adversary and someone that could potentially undermine his authority as the head of Ardsmuir prison.”

What changes Grey’s opinion of Jamie? What moment?
“There’s no one specific moment that Lord Grey changes his opinion of Jamie. Throughout the episode he is gathering information and trying to strategize a way of dealing with Jamie. In the process of doing so, he comes to see Jamie as an equal, both in terms of intellect and a deep sense of honor. Jamie has a unique ability to reveal and expose Lord Grey’s vulnerabilities. In the game of chess he plays with Jamie, Lord Grey is caught off guard by his own emotions as Jamie is once again able to expose Lord Grey’s suppressed feelings … this time his homosexual urges … when Jamie tells him about the grief he feels losing the love of his life, Claire.”

Starz Entertainment, LLC

What is your understanding of how gay men were treated in 18th-century London? Did you feel the need to do any research?
“I didn’t get too bogged down in the nitty-gritty of how gay men were treated in the 18th century. While it is fascinating … and Diana [Gabaldon]’s books from the Lord John series give many helpful insights … it’s not always playable in a scene. I think on a fundamental level, regardless of the time, Lord John is dealing with an an internal conflict of character. He is compelled to do things that intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually conflict with who he wants or wishes he could be based on the expectations of the world in which he lives . This is relatable to anyone, gay or straight. And in particular, it is still a struggle that many LGBTQ people still deal with today, over 200 years later. With so much still unchanged for LGBTQ people in our own time, there’s very little need to look backwards.”

Can you talk about how the scripts address Grey’s sexuality going forward?
“The scripts aren’t heavy-handed in the way they treat Grey’s sexuality. To their credit, they treat his sexuality as incidental to his character and the plot. The scripts also cleverly subvert and play with the audiences’ expectations, especially in the scene where Jamie offers himself to Grey and he refuses.”

Want to hear and talk more about episode 3 of Outlander? Tune in to EW Radio, Sirius XM 105, at noon ET on Sept. 25 to hear Amy Wilkinson and I interview Wil Johnson, who plays Joe Abernathy.

Did you catch what Berry’s mother-in-law said to him about playing Lord John Grey? Find out here.